Nigeria: SIM Registration – Govt May Block 161 Million Lines in Two Weeks

About 161.5 million mobile telephone lines may be blocked by December 30, 2020, if the Federal Government fails to extend the two-week deadline given to telecommunications operators to get the National Identity Numbers (NINs) of their subscribers, findings by Daily Trust have shown.

MTN, GLO, Airtel, 9Mobile and other smaller telecom companies in the country were handed a stern order on Tuesday by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, to compulsorily demand for the NINs of their customers within two weeks.

Pantami gave the order at a meeting with CEOs of the agencies under the ministry after a meeting he had with them on Monday, a statement from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said.

But Daily Trust investigations have shown that more than 160m Nigerians in the urban and rural areas may not beat the two weeks deadline due to the slow nature of national identity registration.

Nigeria’s teledensity rose by 2.2 per cent from 104.4 per cent to 106.6 per cent in October, increasing the number of telecom subscribers to 203.5 million, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Teledensity is the number of telephone connections for every 100 individuals living within an area. It varies across nations, and between urban and rural areas within a country.

However, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was only able to register paltry 42m Nigerians in 10 years the enrolment exercise started.

Telecom industry experts and subscribers spoken to by Daily Trust on Wednesday said the FG’s directive was not realistic and would cut off many Nigerians from telecom networks because NIMC would not be able to register 160m phone users in two weeks.

A telecom industry expert and former president of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) Engr Olusola Teniola, said it would be difficult for NIMC to carry out the registration in two weeks.

“The telcos will find it very difficult to achieve this with at least 28m Nigerians without NINs and NIMC unable to provide such within that period to beat the deadline. It is very apparent that at the very least an extension within realistic timelines that NIMC can meet will have to be set,” Teniola said.

Another expert, Ugo Ekanem said the FG’s deadline was unrealistic.

“The question is, how NIMC will achieve over 150 million (perhaps less) enrollments in two weeks when it has the capacity of enrolling only 2.5 million monthly?” Ekanem queried.

He said the same puzzle goes for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). For instance, he said, operators like MTN, GLO, 9Mobile and Airtel have less than 20 offices in Abuja all together and this show they would not be able to manage the crowd within two weeks.

NIMC’s Head of Corporate Communications refused to respond to Daily Trust enquiry last night. Pantami also declined to comment.

But the Director General of NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, had said in September this year that the commission was working with various agencies of government to synergize the digital identification.

“The Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Communications Commission, and many others are agencies we are working with to synergize the digital identification process,” he said at this year’s Digital Identity Day Celebration in Abuja.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government said it has licensed 173 centres and 30 state government institutions to conduct the enrollment of the National Identity Number (NIN) across Nigeria, NIMC said on its website yesterday.

“The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), has approved the licensing of 173 Agents and 30 State Governments/Public Sector Institutions to conduct enrolment of all persons including legal residents into the National Identity Database (NIDB) on behalf of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC),” the notice read.

However, yesterday, the Association of Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), which spoke on behalf of all the telecom companies, pledged their support to the full implementation of FG’s directive.

“In line with that, we wish to communicate our intention to fully comply with the two directives issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in the past week, and to work closely with them to overcome this challenge, together,” the operators said.

Daily Trust monitored the on-going NIN registration across the country and discovered that In Yobe many residents thronged the three NIMC designated registration centres within Damaturu to register for the NIN.

One of the applicants, Bulama Ali, told Daily Trust that the Federal Government gave “a very short notice for the exercise.”

He doubted that if the NIMC could cover the total huge number of subscribers in the country within two weeks.

A source within NIMC main office in Damaturu said they used to register about 100 people daily but the turnout has increased to more than 150 as at Wednesday.

In Kano, our correspondent observed that there were less than 20 people waiting to be attended to by 2 pm yesterday.

However, a staff of NIMC, who asked not to be named, told our correspondent that the high turn out may not be unconnected to the directives of the NCC.

One of the registrants told our correspondent that he was not even aware of the NCC directive but he came because he needed an ID card to open a bank account.

In Plateau State, all the Secretariats of the 17 Local Government Areas where NIMC’s offices are located have been closed down due to the on-going strike action by the LG workers.

Daily Trust gathered that people who often attempted to enter the secretariat are prevented from getting access to the gate, adding that local government workers were not present.

Our correspondent, who visited Jos North LG Secretariat, reported that the secretariat was equally closed down as nobody was sighted within the premises.

Meanwhile, at Miyati Centre in Rigasa Igabi Local Government Area, there was no crowd as only four people were seen in the queue around 2:30pm yesterday.

“We are expecting a high number on Thursday and Friday and this is because not all the people heard that the deadline has approached,” Bello, one of the staff registering people at Miyagi Center, SAID.

A resident of Tudun Wada, Salisu Ibrahim, said he has been going to the centre to rectify his date of birth that was wrongly captured in the first registration he did but was asked to pay N25,000.

“I visited the centre, where I registered months back, but I later discovered my date of birth was wrongly captured instead of 1984 it was captured as 1990. But they told me to pay N25,000, so I left because I can’t afford the money,” he said.

When our correspondent visited the headquarters of the NIMC along Abdukadir Ahmed close in Bauchi metropolis ON Wednesday afternoon, he observed few persons at the entrance waiting for their temporary registration slip.

Abubakar Mohammed, who received his temporary registration slip, yesterday said, “I spent two days on the queue to get the tickets and I came to the office as early as 6am but it was on the second day that I was lucky to be registered.”

A staff member of NIMC told Daily Trust that there were provisions for VIPs who paid N1000 to be registered without following the long queue.

At the NIMC State Office located inside the Federal Secretariat along Abak road in Uyo, the turn-out of people for the exercise was low.

Our correspondent observed that the few persons who turned out for registration were orderly as they awaited their turn to be captured after submitting their details to the officials in charge.

The Akwa Ibom State Coordinator of NIMC, Mr Fred Iwok, said the apathy of citizens to the National Identity Numbers (NINs) registration process was responsible for the poor registration since the project started in 2012.

Iwok said not more than 900 thousand citizens have registered out of the 4 million population in the state.

Our correspondent reported that the NIMC’s office in Lafia was not crowded as at yesterday.

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